Late Friday, the Maryland House of Delegates, in a close vote, passed a same-sex marriage bill, which will now be forwarded to the State Senate. If passed by the Senate, Gov. O’Malley will sign it, and Maryland will join a number of states and Washington, D.C. that allow some form of gay marriage or civil union. Although I am sure that the politics that have gone on publicly and behind the scenes are fascinating, this is not a political blog site, and I have no interest in making it one. The gay marriage issue, though, is nothing if not headline-making, so it merits a brief look at how legalizing same sex unions may affect tort and insurance issues in Maryland. Ultimately, the impact will probably be minimal, but a few items immediately come to mind:
1. “Resident Relative” Coverage: In many personal liability policies, coverage is generally available to the “resident relative” of the named insured. Currently, a same-sex partner would not fall into that category, but if the partner were to become a spouse, then presumably, he or she would become an insured by definition under the policy and be entitled to a defense and indemnity if an applicable tort claim was brought against the person.
2. Loss of Consortium: A loss of consortium claim exists in favor of the spouse of a personal injury plaintiff for loss of affection, companionship, services, and the like. Juries often have a difficult time placing a whole lot of value on loss of consortium claims, given the whole “in sickness and in health” thing, but just think of some of the debates that may go in inside of a jury room when the loss of consortium claim involves a same-sex couple.
3. Joint Marital Assets: When an individual is sued in tort and a judgment is obtained, the prevailing plaintiff has many avenues of collecting if the judgment is not timely paid, including attaching bank accounts and placing liens on real property. However, there is a catch - the judgment creditor can only go after the debtor’s personal property and generally has no rights to jointly held property. With same-sex marriage, gay couples will likely accumulate and maintain more joint property than if there were no legal recognition of the union. The family home, for example, will likely automatically be joint property of the spouses regardless of how it is titled, thus protecting the property from lien.